THE AGE SHADOWS
FROM THE MARTYRDOM OF St.PAUL, 68 A.D., TO THE DEATH OF St.JOHN, 100 A.D
We name the last generation of the first century, from 68 to 100 A.D., “The Age of Shadows,” partly because the gloom of persecution was over the church, but more especially because of all periods in the history, it is the one about which we know the least. We have no longer the clear light of the Book of Acts to guide us; and no author of that age has filled the blank in the history. We would like to read of the later work by such helpers of St. Paul as Timothy, Apollos and Titus, but all these and St. Paul’s other friends drop out of the record at his death. For fifty years after St. Paul’s life a curtain hangs over the church, through which we strive vainly to look; and when at last it rises, about 120 A.D with the writings of the earliest church fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul. The fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D., made a great change in the relation of Christians and Jews. Among the many provinces under the rule of Rome, the only land discontented and disloyal was Judea. The Jews, by putting their own interpretation upon their prophetic writings, believed that were destined to conquer and govern the world, and having that confident expectation submitted also that many of the Roman procurators or governors utterly failed to comprehend the Jewish character, and were needlessly harsh in their dealings.
About 66 A.D. the Jews broke out into open rebellion, hopeless from its very beginning, for what could one of the smallest provinces, whose people were untrained in war, accomplish against an empire of a hundred and twenty millions of people, with a quarter of a million disciplined and seasoned soldiers? Moreover, the Jews themselves were broken into factions which fought and slaughtered each other as fiercely as their common enemy Rome. Vespasian, the leading Roman general, led a great army into Palestine, but was called to Rome to take the imperial throne, and left the conduct of the war to his son Titus. After a terrible siege, made more terrible by starvation and civil strife within the walls, the city was taken and destroyed. Untold thousands of the Jews were put to death, and other thousands were enslaved. The Coliseum at Rome was built by the forced labor of Jewish captives, multitudes being literally worked to death. The Jewish state, after an existence of thirteen centuries, was annihilated, and was not restored until 1948. In the fall of Jerusalem, few if any Christians perished. From the prophetic utterances of Christ the Christians received warning, escaped from the doomed city, and found refuge at Pella, in the Jordan valley. But the great effect upon the church of this destruction was that it put an end forever to all relation between Judaism and Christianity. Up to this time the church had been regarded by the Roman government and by the people at large as a branch of the Jewish religion: but henceforth Jews and Christians were apart. A small section of Jewish Christians endured for two centuries, but with ever-decreasing numbers, and became Ebonites, a people by themselves, scarcely recognized by the general church and despised as apostates by their own race. About the year 90 A.D. the cruel emperor Domitian began a second imperial persecution of the Christians. Thousands of the of the believers were slain, especially in Rome and Italy; for this persecution, like that of Nero, was spasmodic and local, not extending throughout the empire. At this time St. John, the last of the apostles, who had been living in Ephesus, was imprisoned on the isle of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea, and there received the Revelation contained in the last book of the New Testament. Many scholars, however, assign an earlier date to this work, about 69 A.D., soon after the death of Nero. It is probable that St. John died at Ephesus about 100 A.D.
During this age the later books of the New Testament were written- Hebrews, perhaps II Peter, the three Epistles and Gospel of John, Jude and the Revelation. But the universal recognition of these books as inspired and canonical came later. It is interesting to note the state of Christianity at the close of the first century, about seventy years after the Ascension of Christ. By this date there were families which for three generations had been followers of Christ. At the opening of the second century the church was to be found in every land and almost every city from the Tiber to the Euphrates, from the Black Sea to Northern Africa, and some think it extended as far west as Spain and Britain. Its membership included several millions. The well known letter of Pliny to the Emperor Trajan, written about 112 A.D., states that in the provinces of Asia Minor bordering on the Black Sea the temples of the gods were almost forsaken, and the Christians were everywhere a multitude. The members were of every class, from the noblest in rank down to the slaves, who throughout the empire outnumbered the free population. But in the church, its services and its officers, the slaves was treated as the equal of the noble. A slave might be a bishop, while his master was only an ordinary member. At the end of the first century the doctrine forth by the apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Romans were accepted throughout the church as the standards of the faith. The teachings of St.Peter and St.John in their epistles show a complete accord with the views of St.Paul. Heretical opinions were arising, and sects were forming, the germs of which had been noted and warned against by the apostles, but their full development came later. Baptism was everywhere the rite of initiation into the church, mainly by immersion; although there is definite mention, 120 A.D., of baptism by pouring water upon the head, indicating that it was already a custom.
The Lord’s Day was generally observed, though not with strictness as a Jewish, the Hebrew sabbath was kept; but as it became increasingly Gentiles the first day gradually took the place of the seventh day. We find before the end of St.Paul’s ministry, the churches meeting on the first day of the week, and in the Revelation that day is called “The Lord’s day.” The Lord’s Supper was universally observed. This began as a service in the home, like the Jewish Passover, out of which it was an outgrowth.
But among Gentiles churches the custom arose of celebrating it at a meeting of the church, as a supper to which each member brought some share of provision. St. Paul rebuked the church at Corinth for abuses that had crept into this method of observance. By the end of the century the Lord’s Supper was everywhere a service held at the meeting-place of the Christians, but probably on account of the persecutions not in public. All except members of the church were excluded from this celebration, which was held as a “mystery.” The recognition of Easter Sunday, as the anniversary of our Lord’s resurrection was sanctioned and growing, but was not by this time universal. The last survivor of the twelve apostle was St. John, dwelling at Ephesus until about 100 A.D. there is mention of “apostle,” who appear to have been evangelists traveling among the churches, but without authority; and evidently not highly respected, for churches are recommended to give them entertainment for three days and no longer.
In the Acts and later epistles elders (Presbyters) and bishop are named as though the two titles were applied interchangeably to the same persons. But by the close of the first century the tendency was growing to elevate one as bishop above his fellow-elders, leading later to an ecclesiastical system. Deacons are mentioned in St.Paul’s later letters as church officers. In Romans, written about 58 A.D., Phebe of Cenchrea is called a “deaconess,” and a reference in I Timothy may be to woman holding that office. The plan of service in the Christian assemblies was derived from that in the Jewish synagogues. The Old Testament Scriptures were read, and portions of the apostolic letters, also of the gospels; the psalms of the Bible and Christian hymns were spontaneous; and addresses were freely given by the members and visiting brethren. At the close of the service frequently the Lord’s Supper was partaken. Reading the later epistles and the Book of Revelation, we find light and shade mingled in the account of the churches. The standards of moral character were high, but the tone of spiritual life was lower than it had been in the earlier apostolic days. Yet everywhere the church was strong, aggressive, growing, and rising to dominance throughout the world of the Roman empire.
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- St. John Chrysostom, the “Doctor Eucharisticus” and “a second Paul” (insightscoop.typepad.com)
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